Stuart Scheller opinion column: America needs leaders with fresh eyes

Americans looking for leaders will find hope in a new generation of veterans shaped by service during the United States Global war on terror (GWOT). Those who have fought, bled and carried dead America’s foreign wars know what is best about this nation and how to preserve it. I have served in combat commands in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I have no doubt that America will find its future leaders among the talented young officers I have served with.

Military service over the past two decades can go a long way in preparing someone for public service. But ex-servicemen must break free from the servile mindset that pervades the US military if they are to face the leadership challenges America faces. Getting ahead in today’s military, asking questions, addressing problems, or anything but being a yes man is frowned upon, even outright punishable. Loyalty to “the system” is placed above martial skills, leadership and critical thinking.

And yet, look at the record of this “system” since World War II: failure to achieve political goals in Vietnam, Beirut, Kosovo, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Worse, the government has exhausted economic, diplomatic, and informational resources in pursuit of ends that have proven abortive. Meanwhile, top generals have isolated themselves from accountability by shifting blame onto politicians, neighboring foreign diplomatic departments and younger military personnel.

Fear of finger pointing keeps most active duty military personnel silently and solely focused on their specific duties. Inept leadership of the entire military creates confusion about its role in foreign policy. Political “experts” lecture on how jobs, inflation and homeland security affect elections more than foreign policy. Despite what these so-called pundits think, the military arm of foreign diplomacy is critical to maintaining America’s prosperity.

Since Woodrow WilsonIn his Fourteen Points Speech in 1918, America served as the leader of the international system. But since Vietnam, American leaders have ruthlessly pursued problems around the world without a long-term strategy to bolster national power. National power correlates directly with the influence a nation can exert on the international system. Thus, if American leaders are to maximize their ability to influence the international system, our foreign policy strategy should aim to increase our national power at a pace that matches or matches that of our competitors without recklessly engaging in disempowering conflicts abroad . Ultimately, America’s influence on the global order determines its influence on all issues, including jobs, inflation and homeland security.

America cannot afford another generation of senior military and civilian leaders without contact, but here we are. As Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin put forward the idea that the biggest threat to his department was COVID-19, Russia was staging forces on the border of Ukraine; America was preparing to end the longest war in American history; and the Department of Defense fell into disrepair internally due to procurement, promotion, and education problems. Due to misplaced priorities, the evacuation of Afghanistan a year ago fell through this month and the global order deteriorated. Also when President Biden When asked about a military investigation that revealed a series of failures following the evacuation of Afghanistan, he said he disagreed with the conclusions of the investigation. When asked which parts he specifically rejects, he again answered without further explanation: “I reject it”.

The American people could demand accountability by putting pressure on their elected politicians. American taxpayers should not spur inept military leaders with $750 billion in annual blank checks. Americans were outraged and justifiably traumatized when CEOs of major companies received huge bonuses after the infamous bailouts during the 2008 recession. So why do we continue to incentivize ineffective military leadership?

All is not lost. While we desperately need a new generation of leaders able to work within the system to augment rather than squander national power on the global stage, America retains historic advantages, including the largest national GDP and the Information and diplomatic resources around the globe. Most importantly, we have the best young military talent in the world.

Young officers who have served this nation over the past two decades have gone to war at the expense of lucrative business opportunities and professional accreditations. They chose a lifestyle of courage and sacrifice. Ironically, lucrative corporate positions and professional accreditations fill the resumes of our current career politicians. But literacy and living foreign diplomacy over the past two decades have given the GWOT generation an education not found in an Ivy League classroom. No corporate bonus can buy what they know.

And that’s why our country needs this brave generation to serve again. We need young veterans and active-duty military personnel to think critically and offer reasoned assessments of how the military’s approach to the war has failed America. No excuses or justifications. Blindly following in the footsteps of your predecessors will only repeat their mistakes. Although previous foreign policy disasters have been cushioned and the system has continued to function despite the dismantling of national power, this pattern will eventually end in disaster. The most effective leaders in our military and civilian lives will be those who recognize the problem, speak up, and break the cycle. Our warriors coming home should take this as their next mission.

Stuart Scheller served 17 years in the US Marine Corps. He was deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Beirut and decorated for his bravery. He is the author of the forthcoming memoir Crisis of Command (Knox Press, 2022). This piece originally ran on RealClearPolitics.

Recent Posts by Guest Columnist (See everything)

About Ellen Lewandowski

Check Also

US News & World Report ranks UArizona among the top 50 public universities

By Nick Prevenas, University Communications today The University of Arizona received several strong marks in …